Conservation groups move to halt wildlife killings by feds

BOISE, Idaho — A group of conservation advocates filed a lawsuit recently seeking to block the federal government’s aerial gunning, trapping and poisoning of wildlife across Idaho.

According to the complaint, the coalition says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services should halt all ongoing killing of native wild animals until it completes a lengthy environmental analysis of its program as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit is specifically challenging a 2016 report that gave Wildlife Services the authority to continue and expand its wildlife kill program.

The groups, which include the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, argue that because the federal government didn’t do the proper review, it doesn’t have the science to justify the statewide authorization to kill coyotes, mountain lions, and other animals.

For example, the group’s attorneys say ravens have been targeted to help increase sage grouse populations even though predator-killing programs haven’t been proven as an effective method to boost sage grouse numbers.

Furthermore, federal courts have already rejected two prior attempts to expand its predator killing efforts when it came to protecting sage grouse.

“Wildlife Services is stuck in the barbarism of the 19th century, before the full value of predators in ecosystems was understood,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, in a prepared statement. “This is 2017, and the agency’s current plan to wage war on Idaho’s wild animals is scientifically unjustified and ignores the important role of these animals in the landscape.”

A spokesman for the USDA says the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint specifically points out the federal government’s use of predator-killing cyanide traps — which have been temporarily banned in Idaho after one sickened a young boy and killed his dog in March — as another example of cruel methods to kill wildlife. More than 50 coyotes and one red fox were killed because of cyanide traps in 2016, according to a USDA’s website tracking intentional and unintentional wildlife deaths, as well as how many animals were freed and removed throughout the state.

“Wildlife Services `frequently’ uses rifles and shotguns to kill wildlife,” the complaint read. “Sometimes Wildlife Services uses calls to lure in the target species. Wildlife Services also uses trained dogs to pursue and lure target species.”

The complaint also takes issue with the uneven distribution of killings throughout the state, criticizing that the majority of reported coyote kills were around Twin Falls.

In 2011, Wildlife Services killed 1,847 coyotes in the south-central Idaho region in response to 35 reported livestock depredation — resulting in an average of around 52 coyotes per depredation incident.

“Science shows that such intensive, long-term coyote removal may have multitude of ecological effects,” the lawsuit read.

The USDA killed or euthanized more than 280,000 animals last year, with the overwhelming bulk of those being medium-sized European starlings. Roughly 3,800 coyotes, 72 wolves, 22 foxes and four mountain lions were also either intentionally or unintentionally killed by federal officials.

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